Mancunian legend, global icon, king of controversy, and master of misery – there’s only one Morrissey!
It’s a rainy Tuesday in Manchester and the city’s prodigal son is back for his first performance here in six years, tonight, at an unusually intimate choice of venue: o2 Apollo.
In recent years, Morrissey’s political persuasions and comments concerning immigration have courted controversy (and rightfully so!), but luckily, neither of these subjects come to surface. Tonight is purely a celebration of music and of Manchester.
There is no support act. Instead, a rolling montage of historic performances ranging from the Sex Pistols to Tony Bennett play out on a big screen, setting the tone for tonight’s concert. After 40 minutes of film footage, the lights dim and Morrissey and his band walk onstage together, and the instantly-recognisable opening riff of The Smiths’ iconic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ kicks off.
“You’re amongst friends now” the 63-year-old singer tells his crowd of adoring fans, many of whom have camped outside in the pouring rain and cold to get as close as possible to their idol. From start to finish, the show felt like a religious experience.
There are few musicians who attract the cult-ish following that Morrissey has, and perhaps it was being sat in the balcony above the majority of concertgoers standing in the stalls but applause was loud, abundant, and prolonged in a way I have never experienced before at a concert. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the emotional torpor, especially during a delicate rendition of ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’.
Several audience members launch flowers, letters, and even a rogue cigarette onstage, the latter of which Morrissey picks up and puts in his mouth momentarily before flinging it back into the abyss, to be caught by one lucky concertgoer.
Morrissey’s set is packed with solo hits (‘First of the Gang to Die’, ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’, ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’) and an appropriate amount of Smiths’ tracks (‘Half a Person’, ‘Frankly, Mr Shankly’, ‘Never Had No One Ever’) for the casual listener, as well as newer tracks (‘Knockabout World’, ‘My Hurling Days Are Done’) to delight the diehard fans lining the barrier.
There’s a different backdrop for every song, including photographs of his literary hero Oscar Wilde, Bill Shankly, and Bowie. Sometimes he’s shaking maracas or a tambourine, and other times he swings his microphone around like a lasso.
He takes the opportunity to introduce his incredibly talented band of musicians who hail from every corner of the globe – from Colombia to South Korea, and back to “a Tesco in East Finchley”, invoking the crowd to cheer for them.
Morrissey acknowledges the significance of playing Manchester on October 4. It is 40 years to the day, and the exact hour, that “four not very sweet, not very tender hooligans” played their first show in Manchester. He is of course referring to The Smiths’ first live performance – a support slot at the Ritz, just a mile down the road.
Despite now living in America, the Stretford-born musician clearly still holds his home city close to his heart. His recent single, ‘Bonfire of Teenagers’ has a particularly poignant outing tonight, as he introduces it as “a song of our city, regrettably”, in reference to the 2017 arena bombing.
In a one-song encore, Morrissey surprises fans with the rarely-played Smiths’ cut ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’ – it’s one of their more raw and rockier tracks, and it sends the crowd wild. When he re-enters the stage he’s wearing a t-shirt with a large photo of Corrie veteran Ena Sharples – another display of adoration for Mancunian culture – though he does tear the t-shirt to shreds by the song’s end, storming off stage with urgency, and without a goodbye, marking the show’s end.
Morrissey’s shows are unpredictable and sporadic, but this one was undoubtedly special for everyone in attendance, and I’m certain that concertgoers got what they wanted.